Lantern Festival (Yuánxiāojié 元宵节)

Did you hear the fireworks last night? Can you still hear?

Yesterday (Feb 9, 2009), the fifteenth day of the first month, was Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival comes 15 days after Chinese New Year, and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. Lantern Festival is also the last day that fireworks are legally allowed.

REASONING BEHIND FIREWORKS

In ancient times, the Chinese would fill bamboo stems with gunpowder that would be burnt to create small explosions to drive away evil spirits. Now, in modern times, firecrackers are used. The myth is that evil spirits are scared away by the loud popping noises and explosions that fireworks emit. Fireworks also indicate a joyful time of year, and have become a very important part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

POPULAR ACTIVITIES DURING LANTERN FESTIVAL

Lantern Festival is not to be confused with Mid-Autumn Festival (aka Moon Festival, “Zhongqiujie” 中秋节), which is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around mid or late September.

Lanterns
You will notice that lanterns are hung everywhere. They are usually red in colour and tend to be oval in shape.

Sometimes these lanterns have riddles, and a popular activity is for people to guess these riddles. At other times, these lanterns simply contain messages of good fortune, family reunion, abundant harvest, prosperity and love.

Food (tāngyuán汤圆)
A popular food item to be eaten during this time is “yuanxiao”, which is a glutinous rice ball that has a filling inside. Fillings will vary from the traditional black sesame, or red bean, to green tea or even chocolate fillings.

HISTORY
The 15th day of the 1st lunar month is the Chinese Lantern Festival because the first lunar month is called yuan-month and in the ancient times people called night Xiao. The 15th day is the first night to see a full moon. So the day is also called Yuan Xiao Festival in China.
To the Chinese, the roundness of the moon is important to them because it symbolizes harmony, unity, and “completeness”.